Recently, I had the great pleasure of receiving Daudi Peterson’s 228-page book HADZABE – By the Light of a Million Fires, which chronicles the life of the the last living hunter-gatherer people in East Africa, the Hadzabe (or Hadza). Far from a scientific evaluation that features collected data points and subsequent conclusions, Peterson’s is a story rich with individual voices relaying passions, hardships, dreams and challenges. With respect, wisdom and joy, this book — full of ancient stories and pertinent history of the tribe’s evolution over time — illustrates in word, art and the magnificent and captivating photography of Jon Cox, the remarkable life of a disappearing people.
What speaks to me most in HADZABE is not how different this tribe (that lives as we all once did prior to the advent of agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago) is from “modern Westernized man,” but instead, all that we have to learn from them and their reverence for, perfect compatibility with and complete reliance on Mother Nature:
- A total equality between men and women;
- A lack of attachment to material possessions;
- Sharing with all who approach, and never taking more than one needs;
- Migrating as needed from stressed lands to new and fertile grounds;
- Empowering children – all loved, protected and cared for by the entire clan — to work as contributing members of society;
- Embracing the art of storytelling between elders, children and grandchildren;
- Loyalty to one’s family and one’s people;
- Reverence for elders;
- Acknowledging and putting in place protection measures to quell the natural strife between spouses and in-laws;
- Not prolonging life but allowing the elderly to pass with respect and dignity;
And so much more… (To discover, you MUST read it for yourself!)
While there is clearly much to admire about these Hadzabe people and their ancient ways, many of the same attitudes and behaviors that serve them well in their traditional bush homelands are now undermining them as they attempt to adapt to modernity. “In our culture and economy, we consume all we want each day without thought of tomorrow. Clearly, this leads to huge problems when we encounter outside goods such as alcohol or try to save money to buy larger items like a bicycle or to pay for school and medical expenses. It is not what we are used to.” For these and countless other challenges the Hadzabe face today; Peterson, his team at Dorobo Safaris and The Dorobo Fund for Tanzania, and a smattering of others are fighting to help — to secure land rights, to involve the Hadzabe in tourism in a fair and sustainable manner and to provide them access to medical care and education.
An American raised from boyhood in Tanzania, Peterson knows the Hadzabe better than most any non-Hadzabe human walking Planet Earth. I am grateful to him for sharing this account so honestly and vibrantly with all of us. I invite everyone interested in Africa, human cultural conservation, history, great storytelling and how to live in harmony with nature to read this extraordinary publication. To purchase, visit www.dorobofund.org.
Anne Wells is Director & Founder of Unite The World With Africa (unitetnz.org), a social organization dedicated to connecting Americans and Tanzanians in meaningful ways and to advancing health, education and micro finance programs across East Africa.